The prime minister made the comments to reporters in Montreal on Wednesday after Radio-Canada published a story on how the federal government awarded a contract to an Ontario-based company whose parent company is Hytera Communications. That firm is blacklisted over national security concerns by the United States Federal Communications Commission.
“I find it disconcerting that while parts of the government’s security agencies were advising us as a government, and as Canadians, that we have to be very careful about foreign interference … that other parts of the civil service were signing contracts that have questionable levels of security for our operations and our national security institutions, like the RCMP,” Trudeau said.
“We’re going to be following up on this, finding out what needs to be done to ensure that our communications technology is secure, but also make sure we’re figuring out how this could continue to happen and make sure that Canada is not signing contracts with the lowest bidder that then turn around and leave us exposed to security flaws.
“We will have some real questions for the independent public service that signed these contracts, and we’ll make sure that this is changed going forward. It’s high time that happens.”
The report comes amid growing concerns of foreign interference, including criminal charges being laid against an employee of Hydro-Quebec for allegedly spying for China, and amid a Canadian policy reset on how the federal government handles investment, cooperation, competition and strategic challenges posed by China.
On Oct. 6, 2021, Ottawa awarded Sinclair Technologies a contract worth $549,637 for a radio frequency filtering system, Radio-Canada first reported. Protecting the RCMP’s land-based radio communications from eavesdropping is one of the system’s purposes.
The company has been controlled by Hytera Communications since 2017, Radio-Canada reported. The Chinese government owns about 10 per cent of Hytera through an investment fund.
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which awarded the contract, said it did not take security concerns and Sinclair’s ownership into consideration during the bidding process, Radio-Canada reported. The RCMP told the outlet it’s confident its systems remain secure.
Global News independently verified a contract with Sinclair Technologies matching that date and for that amount, but has not independently verified details of Radio-Canada report.
“We count as a government on independent civil servants to sign contracts and ensure rigorous processes of evaluations of partners on a range of initiatives that the government requires, whether it be procurement or others,” Trudeau said.
“Obviously, we have to ensure that it is explicitly spelled out that sensitive contracts that indicate issues of national security need to be provided to only reliable sources of procurement. We will look at whether our communication systems are compromised.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino also echoed Trudeau’s concerns Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa, saying the government is beginning an assessment of the contract and its awarding process.
“It goes without saying that we need to be very vigilant about where the vectors of risk and foreign interference are occurring on a daily basis and that is why we put this process in place around how contracts are awarded by PSPC and other branches,” he said.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons Wednesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the contract should be “banned and reversed” by the government as soon as possible.
“Justin Trudeau has to take personal responsibility rather than just blaming everyone else,” the opposition leader said.
“I think that we as a government — that we as a country — should not allow countries and governments, or government-owned enterprises that are known for espionage, to sell technology that is related to our telecommunications in this country, because that raises risks of espionage and other security problems.”
Trudeau said it was too soon to tell what actions Ottawa would take following Radio-Canada’s reporting.
“Obviously, we’re just looking into it right now, following on this report, and we will make sure that we take the necessary steps,” he said.
“But it’s too early to say what the necessary steps to ensure the integrity of our communication systems could be.”
Radio-Canada’s report is the latest in a string of stories on alleged Chinese interference and influence in Canada.
Global News reported in November that Trudeau and members of his cabinet were allegedly briefed in January 2022 that the Chinese Consulate in Toronto directed a clandestine election-interference network in 2019, which intelligence sources allege is a loosely affiliated group of Liberals and Conservatives funded by the Chinese Communist Party to help advance its political objectives in Canada.
Other intelligence sources told Global News that the consulate disbursed $250,000 through proxies to the network, which allegedly included an Ontario MPP and at least 11 federal candidates and 14 staffers.
While the briefings did not conclude that Beijing funded any campaigns directly, that’s how the issue has been interpreted at times in the political debate in the House of Commons.
Furthermore, a Spanish civil rights group, Safeguard Defenders, revealed in a recent report that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto and at least one in Vancouver, and the RCMP has since said it is investigating those reports.
Earlier in November, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly warned Canadians should consider the “geopolitical risks” of doing business in China. She later released Ottawa’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy last month, calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power” in a region where multiple countries are showing major economic growth.
The RCMP has said foreign interference has emerged as a priority for law enforcement, adding that it is working with at-risk sectors to improve Canada’s response and resiliency.